By Pauline Geisler, TPERP Coordinator
Back on September 13th, TPERP Brian and I were closing the tidepool area. That was the day the wind changed direction and brought smoke and ash to the coast. Along with the sooty haze came a brownish bird looking a bit worse for wear.
I was standing at the entrance to the tidepool area telling people that it was 4:30 and the area was closed when I noticed the little bird hopping up the cliff edge toward me. It proceeded to hunker down right in front of me as I continued to talk to people. As I moved north, the bird followed. It hopped up next to the Unstable Cliff sign and watched as I talked to a few visitors, then it proceeded to take up residence at my feet when I moved to block the tidepool entrance. When visitors got too close, it moved to the large boulder behind me. I told the bird to stay out of trouble and then headed up to the trailer. Brian spent his time teasing me about my new friend (don’t worry, revenge comes later in the story). As we were heading toward our vehicles, Brian pointed out my new friend waiting by our trucks.
Round two for our bird involves Lonie and the Weed Warriors. Apparently our feathered friend made their acquaintance while they were weeding around the trailer. It sat on one of their feet and then got into the bags of weeds and just made itself at home. One of the Weed Warriors posted a picture of the bird on iNaturalist and it was identified as a juvenile female grackle.
I didn’t see the grackle for a few weeks and figured she had moved on to where she belonged (grackles are uncommon at Cabrillo). Then one day I was closing the tidepool area as usual and she flew over to where I was standing and once again took up her post at my feet. She looked a lot healthier than the first time I’d seen her. As above, she followed me as I made my rounds talking to visitors and closing the area. She proceeded to fly to the trailer and wait for me on the roof. She then headed straight for my truck and made herself at home on the roof. As I opened the truck door she flew off toward the Coast Guard lighthouse property and landed in the large palm tree.
Gracie (it seems appropriate to give her a name at this point) has since made herself at home around the coastal trail, the tidepool area and the trailer specifically. When I finally made it down to the trailer last Sunday afternoon, Brian pointed out Gracie next to the Education Table. He said visitors had definitely taken note of her presence. In the time she’s been here she has made herself at home and has definitely lost her shyness around people (something tells me some of our visitors have been feeding her). She found a great perch … on Brian’s head (that’s what he gets for teasing me).
Then Gracie headed down to the tidepools where she made the rounds among the visitors (trying to mooch food from one visitor who was eating lunch). After an hour or so, she headed back up to the trailer (I think she was following Brian this time). After closing, she was waiting for us on the trailer roof. Gracie then flew down and rested on LE Ranger Jon’s foot (see video). She noticed the open trailer door and decided that it looked like a nice place to investigate. She tried to move right on in, but we managed to get her out of the trailer (something tells me this will happen again).
She continues to interact on a regular basis with the Weed Warriors whenever they are down working along the coastal access.
So that’s how the Coastal Trail area found itself with a new mascot. If you find yourself in the tidepool area or along the Coastal Trail, keep an eye out for Gracie. Chances are she’ll find you first.
[Comments from Samantha Wynns, Science Educator]
This is a Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) . From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology “In 1900 the northern edge of the Great-tailed Grackle’s range barely reached southern Texas. Since the 1960s they’ve followed the spread of irrigated agriculture and urban development into the Great Plains and West, and today are one of North America’s fastest-expanding species.” So they were not native to this area and have since naturalized.
She looks like a scruffy juvenile to me, and her behavior does indicate that she’s being fed by humans.